What’s the point of street protests?

By May 2, 2017Uncategorized


Just last month a group of Brexit protestors gathered in London for a pro-European march.  The month before that thousands took to the streets across the UK to oppose President Trump’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries.  The month before that there was a march in London to show solidarity with the people of Aleppo.  I could continue with numerous examples but whilst political marches and street protests are very much the order of the day, should we pause to ask how effective they actually are?

Taking the above noted issues at face value then it’s difficult to see what impact, if any, these protests have had.  The UK is still leaving the EU, any blockage to President Trump’s travel ban policy has come through the courts, not because he is swayed by opposition protests, and the people of Aleppo still continue to experience unimaginable suffering.  So from a purely pragmatic viewpoint these marches have only been successful at drawing attention to an issue that anyone watching the news will already know about.

The art of political protest is of course nothing new.  We think back to the industrial age where workers campaigned for better conditions or the heroines of the women’s suffrage campaign.  Leaders such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Thomas Percival spring to mind as pioneers and change makers.

However, nowadays political demos often feature a sea of people furiously demanding change. And whilst they highlight issues in the short term to feed a content-demanding 24 hour news media, their lack of a long term strategy means that after the crowds have dispersed and the placards have been binned, the public’s attention moves on.  Whilst it’s difficult to question the intentions of protest organisers, the fundamental flaw of such campaigns can often be a lack of leadership and public figurehead to drive home the key messages after the crowds have gone home.

Remember the Occupy movement that seemed to take the City of London by storm a few years ago?  You’ll now struggle to find the organisation in the headlines any more.  That’s because they lacked a strategy to continue to command the public’s attention.  As with most things, the world moves on.

The same principles apply for communications campaigns managed by companies like Indigo.  Whilst the aims and objectives of a movement or a client’s PR objectives can be easy to get behind, unless there is sustained capacity building by any campaign, with a view to driving consistent positive coverage, then it is very hard to command the public’s and decision makers attention for long.

Also, the nature of a campaign’s objectives are critical. Those that are well defined, pragmatic and achievable will make a difference. Those that demand change from others merely by haranguing people and politicians without offering practical solutions, will be far easier to ignore.

Political campaigners of the past such as Pankhurst and Percival also didn’t have the benefit of social media.  Clearly with the use of powerful platforms such as Twitter and Facebook it’s quite easy to get people behind a campaign – attracting thousands of supporters.  But the real trick is to engage these people beyond blatant clicktivism where political support is achieved through the clicking of a mouse.

So whilst street marches remain extremely popular, if their organisers are not planning for the next step and keeping people engaged, they’re doing everyone a disservice.  It’s a message that we deliver to our clients each and every day.

Colin McFarlane is a Senior Account Manager at Indigo